HONG KONG — Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong stirred support for more rallies over the weekend, as police withdrew on Friday from a university campus which had seen some of the worst clashes with security forces during nearly six months of unrest.
Partly numbed by the violent scenes at the Polytechnic University since mid-November, the Asian financial hub has enjoyed a week of relative calm since local elections on Sunday delivered an overwhelming victory to pro-democracy candidates.
Activists in the Chinese-ruled city used social media to announce a series of protests aimed at keeping momentum behind their movement, which has won backing from U.S. President Donald Trump.
Beijing, which is seeking to end a damaging trade war with the United States, warned Washington of “firm counter measures” after Trump signed into law congressional legislation which supported the protesters on Wednesday.
Anti-government protests have rocked the former British colony since June, at times forcing businesses, government, schools and even the international airport to close.
Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised when Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997. China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula put in place at that time and has blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest.
Later on Friday, at 7 pm, protesters plan to gather at the British consulate to urge the British government to protect nationals based in the Chinese territory.
The rally comes after a former employee of Britain’s consulate in Hong Kong said Chinese secret police beat him, deprived him of sleep and shackled him in an attempt to force him to give information about activists leading the protests.
Posters advertising Friday’s event had slogans including “We could all be Simon” referring to Simon Cheng, a Hong Kong citizen who worked for the British government for almost two years. “Freedom is in Peril. Defend it with all your might. Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” read another.
Other demonstrations planned over the weekend include a rally by secondary school students, a march to protest against tear gas sprayed near children and a “march of gratitude” where protesters are planning to march to the U.S. consulate.
A rally planned for Dec. 8 by Civil Human Rights Front, the group that organised million-strong marches in June, is expected to provide the best gauge of how support for the pro-democracy movement is holding up.
On Thursday, hundreds of police officers entered the ruined campus of Polytechnic University to collect evidence, and remove dangerous items including thousands of petrol bombs, arrows and chemicals which had been strewn around the site.
Chow Yat-ming, a senior police officer said investigators had finished their work at the site on Friday and all officers were leaving the campus, enabling people to come and go freely.
Located on Kowloon peninsula, the campus was turned into a battleground in mid-November, when protesters barricaded themselves in and clashed with riot police in a hail of petrol bombs, water cannon and tear gas. About 1,100 people were arrested last week, some while trying to escape.
Police said they found more than 3,000 Molotov cocktails and hundreds of bottles of corrosive liquids on the campus. It was unclear whether any protesters remained at the university on Friday but police made no arrests since entering the campus on Thursday.—Reporting by Jessie Pang and Martin Pollard; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan & Simon Cameron-Moore